It had always been my dream to join a fraternity. I grew up watching those raunchy comedies about outrageous parties, gorgeous easy women, and developing friendships that are impervious to the eventual erosion of time. My father was in a fraternity: Theta Theta Theta, or Tri-Theta, and his father before him. In fact, I remember my grandpa telling me that our family was one of the founders of Tri-Theta house. So, I knew my turn at the frat house was a certainty.
My mother left us when I was little, but that never stopped dad from being a loving, providing father. He drove me to the college campus my freshman year and helped me with my bags, beaming with pride as he watched me cross my dorm room threshold. He handed me a new cellphone he purchased as a congratulations gift and told me: “Don’t worry, little monster, your numbers already transferred” (he called me that since I could remember). We hugged and said goodbye before I collapsed onto my bed, giddy with anticipation for the coming year.
Everything started out pretty normal: orientation, buying books, becoming acquainted with my roommate. It wasn’t until a week or so that the fraternities began sign-ups for ‘rush week’. I spoke to reps from all the different houses as though weighing my options but had been dead-set on rushing Tri-Theta for years now. After hearing the fifth or sixth pitch, I realized that Theta house didn’t have a booth set up in the quad. I asked a few guys about the frat but was told that Tri-Theta was a myth, an urban legend. It’s apparently a ghost story told by the upperclassmen to scare the fresh meat: a monstrous fraternity that kills and eats their competition. When I mentioned that all the men in my family had joined that frat, these kids simply laughed and basically told me that my father (and so forth) were lying.
I texted my dad on my way to my dorm and confronted him about Tri-Theta being a lie. His response was odd and a little vexing.
Me: “So, a bunch of guys here say Tri-Theta’s a myth or something wtf!?”
Dad: “LOL… good! Better that way!”
Me: “Dad seriously wtf r u talking about?”
Dad: “Relax, little monster; just be sure you’re looking at your phone at 3:30am tonight”
I texted him again to clarify what he meant, but he just sent me a thumbs-up emoji and a slightly racist Native American emoji saying, ‘soon my son will be a man’. He was goofy idiot.
I plugged in my Xbox and jammed away online while waiting for 3:30am, because what 18-year-old boy really wants to get an early start on this week’s reading. I got a text from an unknown number at exactly 3:30am saying:
I tried to reply with asking if I’m supposed to head down there, but my message was sent back with ‘unable to send to this recipient’. I waited for a minute until another message came in:
This was a little creepy, but I’ve heard tales of fraternities using unnerving tactics like this to scare their pledges. I walked through the eerily quiet hallway and down to the lobby; it was completely empty-not even the dorm monitor was at their desk. I looked around a bit before getting the next message:
I peered through the glass doors leading into the courtyard and didn’t see anybody. The sporadically placed streetlights did a good job at illuminating the darkness, but that didn’t make this any less creepy. My phone buzzed:
I was suddenly more afraid of missing my chance to fulfill my dream than I was of the creepy methods being used to direct me. I popped outside and looked around at the empty quad. I yelled ‘where am I supposed to go!?” into the air like an idiot, then came another message just as one of the courtyard lights went out:
The area under the extinguished lamp was crushingly dark, as if the spot was swallowing any attempt by surrounding illumination to penetrate its void. I gulped and began walking towards the blackened area with needles on my neck, constantly reassuring myself that this will all be worth it. My phone received the final message:
Eyes closed and walk till we stop you. ONE CHANCE!
The phone then mysteriously shut off. I mashed the power button but to no avail. I was still about 10 feet from the darkened area and decided it’s now or never.
‘This is it,’ I told myself, ‘time to nut up or shut up.’
I closed my eyes and walked forward. About a dozen steps in and every natural ambient sound that littered a normal evening vanished; I couldn’t hear anything. I continued forward for an agonizingly long minute or so, my steps suddenly weighed down and sounding as though I was walking through a muddy puddle, that’s when the hands grabbed me: calloused, jagged, painful grasps that tore a screech from my dry throat as they seized both my arms, legs, and scalp.
“Open your eyes, little monster,” a terrifying, guttural mixture of snarls and phlegm whispered into my ears.
I opened my eyes. I was in a cavernous room that resembled some sort of Gothic cathedral, adorned with lewd fornicating statues and artwork of nauseating scenes of gore and torture. The ground was thick with some indiscernible brownish-red liquid. I saw what I immediately recognized as my father, but he was monstrously misshapen and tearing through his clothing with several extra appendages. He had scaly blue skin, two curled horns, a row of yellow grimy fangs, talon-like nails, and was standing at some sort of altar. He gestured to the shadows around me, where the rest of the hideous creatures slowly presented themselves. Figureheads of every unfathomable nightmare, as if gathered from the entire planets dread collective stood around me, some towering beyond my sight. Modern depiction of “monsters” looked like teddy bears in comparison to these things. I screamed and thrashed against the demonic grips on my petrified frame, drawing a frown from my dad and his terrifying cohorts. He stepped aside, revealing three guys that were bound, gagged, and looked to be my age; they were each wearing jackets from different fraternities.
“Don’t you want to make Theta house proud?” he jabbed a vile digit to them and tossed a rusty cleaver at my feat. The disembodied hands released me and I fell to me knees while fighting the urge to retch. I could finally identify the sludge on the floor; it was blood and excrement. “Show us you’re Tri-Theta material.”
I looked at the scared and helpless boys, then to the knife in front of me. The gathered monstrosities quieted and observed, as if anticipating the coming bloodshed. I looked at my father, grinning perversely with twisted pride, and I shouted defiantly before turning and running back into the darkness I came from. I could hear the creatures hiss and roar and the boys muffled cries, followed by a sound I could only describe as tearing fabric. I clasped my ears as I ran into the nothing, unable to mute my father roaring after me:
“I guess you take after your damn mother!”
I awoke the next morning in my bed with a splitting headache. I fumbled around in my pocket for the phone my father gave me but couldn’t find it; I must’ve dropped it somewhere. The memory of last night shot up my spine like jagged lightning, causing me to fall to the floor and begin dry heaving. I didn’t quite know how to process what I saw. I remembered my fathers twisted face and began to cry; did I imagine the whole thing? I finally gathered the courage to call him a few hours later and told him everything. He just laughed and said I must’ve had a nightmare. When I mentioned Tri-Theta again, he suddenly said he’s never heard of that fraternity! I almost smashed the lobby phone back onto the base before pleading with him:
“Are you serious, dad!? I planned to join that frat my entire life; you and grandpa talked about it with me a hundred times!”
“My father and I weren’t in fraternities, little man. Are you sure you’re feeling ok?”
I didn’t answer-I didn’t know how.
“I know college is for experimenting,” he broke the silence with a chuckle, “but you don’t have to take ALL the drugs you see.”
“I-I-I don’t know what’s going on,” I felt like my world had fractured. Was I suffering from some mental instability that caused me to hallucinate?
“I know college can be stressful. Just hang in there, little man.”
“Since when did you start calling me… you know what, I’ll call you later dad.”
I hung up the phone and slumped in a lobby chair, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t insane.
I went with my dad to our family doctor for a check-up the next day and explained my concerns with fabricated memories. He said my lab work came back fine and that I was probably just letting stress get to me, remarking that my mother used to be the same way and that I reminded him of her. My father pulled me out of the semester and said I should take it easy for a while.
I spent the rest of that month lounging around at home, trying to recover from my recently unraveled reality. I tried to piece together evidence that I wasn’t delusional, rummaging through my room for the printouts I had stashed on Theta house, but they were all gone. I even looked on my father’s desk for the pictures of his fraternity days while he was at work but couldn’t find any.
“I really must be crazy,” I cried and laughed at the same time, plopping into my dad’s leather chair and spinning around. That’s when I saw it.
On the windowsill, it’s corner barely visible from behind my baby picture, was a strange looking old newspaper cutout. I gently pulled it from the hiding spot and unfolded it. It was printed in a language I’ve never seen before and had a single picture: a group of young smiling men, one of which looked very much like my grandfather. He was holding a sign that was written in English that said “Theta Theta Theta”; the other men were all holding regular newspaper clippings with missing teenagers on them.
I jumped from the chair and turned to see my father standing in the doorway, sighing and shaking his head.
“I see you’re also nosy like your mom.”